MINNEAPOLIS — Four former NFL players, including Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, sued the NFL on Monday in hope of joining current players in their antitrust fight against the league and halting the lockout.
Eller, three-time All-Pro running back Priest Holmes and ex-players Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Ryan Collins are listed as plaintiffs in the 44-page complaint filed in federal court in Minneapolis.
It seeks class-action status on behalf of all retired or former NFL players who receive health, retirement or other benefits from the league or its subsidized plans, arguing those benefits will be jeopardized by the loss of NFL revenue in an extended lockout.
The suit was also filed on behalf of potential rookie players, arguing the lockout would harm them by increasing injury risk if they're unable to play in games and stiffening the competition if they must enter the league a year later with another pool of rookies. The lawsuit asks the court to stop the 2011 NFL draft until the alleged antitrust violations are resolved.
The case was assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle in St. Paul, Minn., where U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is scheduled to hold an April 6 hearing on a request by current players to immediately halt the lockout.
Shawn Stuckey, an attorney for the former and future players, said he intends to ask the court to combine the retirees' lawsuit with the antitrust suit filed by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and others.
"We hope that we can be a part of that hearing. For the sake of judicial economy, it would help to streamline things to make sure you get all parties involved at the same table at the same hearing at the same time," Stuckey said.
He added: "If we can't get that, we want to give the retired players a voice."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in email that league attorneys had not yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Stuckey, a former linebacker with New England and Tampa Bay, said he's been in "constant contact" with the attorneys representing the current players.
"We thought the best way to remain in solidarity with all the players was to give everyone a voice at the table," Stuckey said in a phone interview. "We wanted to make sure that we're consistent with the goals of all NFL players. We want everyone to be on the same page. We hope that our efforts from this point forth remain consistent."
Eller, who was part of Minnesota's famed Purple People Eaters defensive line, is in the suit to represent the Hall of Famers. Eller was inducted in 2004.
Holmes, the AP's Offensive Player of the Year in 2002 with Kansas City, and Ayanbadejo, a teammate of his in Baltimore on the Super Bowl champion team in the 2000 season, are plaintiffs to represent retirees with vested pensions.
Collins, a tight end with Baltimore and Cleveland who was on Minnesota's practice squad in 1998, is in the lawsuit to represent non-vested former players.
The NFL offers retirement, disability and death benefits, with each program subsidized by the 32 teams. The retirees want the NFL lockout lifted to ensure their pensions and health benefits remain funded.
According to the lawsuit, those benefits can end if a collective bargaining agreement is not renewed by next March 11 – a year after the last one expired.
"You can imagine that if this lockout continues, at some point the pensions are going to be cut off," Stuckey said.
The lawsuit also says several retirement programs are jeopardized by the lockout because they're funded in part by fines of players for on-the-field and off-the-field violations of league rules.
If the programs aren't funded, the lawsuit says, there will be a loss in "vital services for the retirees." Stuckey said many former players receive only $200 per month in pensions, including, he said, 40 percent of Hall of Famers.
These programs provide a range of services such as discounted prescription drugs, prostate screening, nutrition counseling and treatment for dementia.